The National Collegiate Athletic Association placed the University of Connecticut on three years’ probation and suspended its Hall of Fame men’s basketball coach, Jim Calhoun, for three Big East Conference games next season, after determining that he and his staff had committed a rash of recruiting violations.
This is the latest in a string of NCAA violations involving big-name coaches. Last summer, Lute Olson, the legendary coach of the University of Arizona men’s basketball team, was found complicit in the predatory recruiting of teenage recruits. Also last year, the NCAA stripped Bobby Bowden of the title of all-time winningest coach in big-time college football history by making him vacate 14 games in which players participated who had cheated on exams with help from his coaching staff.
The NCAA's Division I Committee on Infractions detailed Calhoun's violations and corresponding penalties in a 30-page report released Tuesday, noting that the case centered on the “extraordinary steps” taken by Connecticut to land a top high school basketball prospect who graduated from high school in 2008. Though the prospect is not named in the report, he has been identified by news outlets as Nate Miles — a recruit who eventually came to Connecticut but did not play on the 2009 squad that went to the Final Four; he was dismissed from the institution after violating a restraining order against a woman.
Jeff Hathaway, Connecticut's director of athletics, told the committee that the recruitment of this prospect “was the most intense I’ve ever seen [Calhoun] about the recruiting of any particular student-athlete.” In his “zeal to get the prospect admitted to the institution and eligible to compete,” the NCAA found, Calhoun allowed a booster, who was a former student manager of the basketball team and an agent certified by the National Basketball Association, to be involved in the recruitment process — a clear violation of NCAA rules.
In early 2009, Yahoo! Sports brought these allegations to light, identifying Josh Nochimson as the booster-turned-agent. While it does not name Nochimson directly, Tuesday’s NCAA report confirms that the booster involved gave Miles numerous “impermissible inducements” to enroll at Connecticut, including help paying for foot surgery, the cost of his enrollment at a basketball academy, the registration fee for his SAT, and money for a strength training program.
The NCAA found that Calhoun and his staff knew of Nochimson’s status as an agent and exchanged nearly 2,000 phone calls and text messages with him during Miles’s recruitment. Calhoun’s staff was also found to have made 150 impermissible phone calls and 190 impermissible text messages directly to Miles during the recruiting process. The coaching staff also provided 32 impermissible complimentary men’s basketball tickets to “individuals responsible for teaching or directing activities with prospective student-athletes,” such as high school and AAU basketball coaches.
Finally, the NCAA found that the former Connecticut director of operations for the basketball team, Beau Archibald, who resigned last year amid these allegations, lied to NCAA enforcement staff members during two separate interviews during the investigation. In other broader findings, Calhoun was found to have “failed to promote an atmosphere for compliance and failed to monitor the program.” The university was found to have “failed to monitor the conduct and administration of the men’s basketball program.”
Aside from Calhoun’s three-game suspension and the program’s three years’ probation, the institution must permanently disassociate itself from Nochimson, reduce its basketball scholarships from 13 to 12 for the next two seasons and cut back in several other ways on basketball recruiting for the next two seasons. The NCAA also imposed a two-year show-cause penalty on Archibald, which would limit his recruiting activities should he take a coaching job at an NCAA member college in the near term.
The NCAA considered a post-season ban for the Huskies but ultimately chose not to make this one of the penalties.
Dennis Thomas, chairman of the Division I Committee on Infractions and commissioner of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, said he thought the penalties the NCAA issued in this case were "appropriate." Though he admitted that the head coach of a basketball team "cannot be aware of everything that goes on within a program," he said the coach ultimately "bears that responsibility."
Connecticut officials offered a set of statements Tuesday afternoon responding to the NCAA findings.
“This is deeply disappointing to the UConn community,” wrote Philip E. Austin, UConn's president. “Let me be very clear, we will comply fully with the NCAA’s sanctions and work with great resolve to restore the luster to our men’s basketball program.”
Though Hathaway openly noted he would “fully recommit” himself “to running a program of impeccable integrity,” Calhoun was much more upset about the NCAA ruling and the harsh words it had for him.
“I am very disappointed with the NCAA’s decision in this case,” Calhoun wrote. “My lawyer and I are evaluating my options and will make a decision which way to proceed. In the meantime, I will not make any further statements about the case as our program prepares for what I hope will be an exciting and successful postseason.”
In 24 seasons at Connecticut, Calhoun has led the Huskies to two national titles, three Final Four appearances and eight Big East tournament championships. This season, he will make about $2.3 million in total compensation and is one of the top-paid coaches in Division I men’s basketball.
Miles transferred to the College of Southern Idaho, a two-year institution, after being expelled from Connecticut in 2008. After a year at Southern Idaho, Miles was drafted by the NBA D-League, its minor league. He was waived by the Sioux Falls Skyforce in late 2009 and is no longer playing in the league.